Meta tags – so 200BCE

Posted by jerry on March 13th, 2007 — Posted in History, Journal, New media, Technology

There are continuing discussions over web 2.0 – on the issue of tagging and tag clouds (all forms of meta data) – so I thought it timely to revisit an idea I first explored in 2004. The internet has come up with a range of standards in relation to information about information – meta data standards. The best known of these are the Dublin Core meta data standards But the issues that led to the Dublin core standards are not new. The Rosetta Stone (196 BC) – just 200 years after Plato, and – significantly – during the Greek administration of Egypt, revealed something really interesting – the existence of meta tags almost 2000 years before the Internet.

The two languages in three scripts on the stone revealed the difficulties of applying consistent language standards across an empire. Just as Web pages today specify a language an script to be applied, so too, the Rosetta stone includes as part of the inscribed decree, the stipulation that it is to be set in hard stone, in the three scripts: heiroglyphic, demotic and Greek.

What we have in fact is a meta data standard that specified the platform (a stele of hard stone); the language versions; the authority of the specification, (Ptolemy V); and its URL (each of the first, second and third rank temples). In web language these would look like this in the head part of the cartouche:

Rosetta Stone meta tags

In other words about half of the Dublin Core meta data standards are incorporated into the Rosetta Stone. This must surely provide us with an insight into something fundamental about the nature of information, and the nature of official discourse. What is needed to establish the intelligibility and authoritativeness of a piece of text when it is removed from the body (speech) and placed into a third-party medium? This is not a new question – and goes to the heart of what it means to be part of a speech community, and indeed part of the virtual community of human culture whether online or face-to-face.


Winners are grinners – but there’s a serious side

Posted by jerry on March 12th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, New media

A little while ago, new media literacy analyst Angela Thomas set a mystery challenge. In June she would be heading off to… well, that was the mystery. The first clue showed a window – with Classical architecture overtones.

The second clue suggested it had something to do with chocolate. I figured it wouldn’t just be any old chocolate – perhaps European or American, but not your bog standard Cadbury – nice though it is. Again could be almost anywhere from Adelaide to Alsace.

It was the third clue that clinched it. A photo of a mermaid fountain. I searched Google and found lots of references to mermaids, but I needed to narrow down the search. Try Flickr. If it was a genuine clue, there would somewhere be a photo of this fountain. About five pages in and I had it. The photo was a plaza somewhere in San Francisco, USA. Surely not a plain old Herschey bar?

I had the name of the plaza, Ghirardelli, but still not the significance. So I googled the name and came up with the chocolate factory that gave its name to the plaza. And being in the US, this chocolate factory had a decent website – complete with links to Google Maps, which gave me the street address and the final piece of the puzzle – which precise building would provide a view of THAT window in a setting that involved chocolate.

Amazingly, it took someone in Australia, a mere 350km from Angela to pinpoint within a few meters a mystery spot that must’ve been instantly recognisable to countless US residents in SanFrancisco!

Is it a question of web literacy? Is it the amazing tools that are available to the online researcher? Perhaps it is the combination of all these. For me it came down to a search strategy – what kinds of information might I find where?

Interestingly, the initial google search only provided fog. But once I had located the image, then I could use Google effectively to locate the mystery spot – and to find information about the Japanese-American artist who designed and built the fountain and had it cast in bronze in 1968 as part of a Civic commission.

So web literacy is not just about being able to use advanced search functions on Google, or about stumbling across intriguing mystery location challenges on someone’s weblog, but about being able to use the appropriate tools across both visual and textual information to achieve the desired result.

What began perhaps as a fun way to get people engaged in a blog by eliciting audience participation, actually wound up challenging people to engage the combination of literacies that go to form web literacy or new media literacy.

Hmm… since I’ll be travelling at about the same time, perhaps I should set a return challenge – watch this space 😉

Thanks to Angela for setting this new media literacy test 🙂


Rjays Super Top Box (motorcycle luggage) review

Posted by jerry on March 11th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Motorcycling

The gearsack was more than six years old and lately the zip had started to give way making it difficult to open and close, and the thing was no longer waterproof. It was time for a re-think. Armed with some birthday money I headed off to Joe’s Motorcycles in Fyshwick on the advice of a friend who had told me of some bargain priced hard top-cases to be had.

I looked at replacement bags and then saw a small top-box. It was more lunch box than top box. It may have been cute, but I couldn’t see a helmet AND jacket fitting in the way the gearsack did (oh so THAT’s why the zip gave way!)…

Underneath the small topcases was a larger model – the Rjays Super top box

rjays topcase
– a full 45litres and by trying in the shop found it fitted two helmets snugly inside. That’s a good start I thought and after parting with AUS$159.95 I took home the case.

It comes with a mounting plate and a set of four brackets with bolts to attach the mounting plate to the bike. I figured I would just cut down the gearsack rack to provide room for the lid to swing open.

After a bit of research online, it appears that there is a strong recommendation to have a pre-existing FLAT rack on which to mount the topcase. I decided on a different solution. The gearsack rack is built from square section steel, so I lined up the slots on the mounting plate with the non-structural in-fills of the rack and drilled two holes to fit. Then I used some longer bolts to fit the topcase mounting plate. I positioned the other two so the brackets would go between the rack in-fills and bolted the plate firmly down.

When I tried to position the topcase onto the mounting plate I found it was held apart by the uprights on the rack. So a little surgery with an angle grinder brought the rack uprights down to the level of the mounting plate.

I positioned the topcase on the mounting lugs and pushed it home. It felt solid for a second or two then popped off in my hands. Okay so it needs to be pushed home very firmly until there is a definite click.

The case looks neat, and feels secure, and at 45 litres it should hold a fair bit. I shall reserve judgement on whether or not it will need to be mounted more securely – ie whether it needs to be bolted to the mounting plate, but it’s designed to be able to lock securely on the bike, or to be removed quickly to use as a carry case. Good concept – like the BMW panniers. As I say, I hope the plastic clip holds it securely – if not I’ll bolt the thing permanently to the mounting plate.

Anyhow, it looks like a stylish piece of luggage and at one third of the price of some other brands, it’s a bargain! It should look good with the panniers in place for touring too. One nice touch is the elastic hold-down inside the topcase to stop stuff from moving around inside – nice touch.

rjays topcase
It weighs a mere 6 kg and measures 40cm front to back and 58cm across and top to bottom is 28cm. Did I mention it has a pillion backrest incorporated? In my case it’s probably mounted too far back for a pillion to use it comfortably, but for safety it’s always better for the pillion to hang on to the rider so the rider knows when the pillion is falling asleep.

Inside the cardboard carton you will find: the top box, the steel mounting plate, four brackets with bolts, a set of keys, and an almost useless sheet of instructions. But it’s easy enough to figure out and over the next few weeks Ill put it through its paces 🙂

[later 21 May 2007] In response to James’ comment below, I have included a couple of photos to show the carrying capacity – the yellow envelope is a standard A4 inter-office envelope – you could probably fit an A3 envelope in without bending it. – [Jerry]

rjays topcase

rjays topcase


Violin repaired – German Maggini copy

Posted by jerry on March 10th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Music

One of the best bits of news I received on my birthday was that my concert violin is fixed. Four cracks repaired, new bass bar, new end block – so it was fairly major. But worth it 🙂

German Magini copy violin

Let me tell you the story of this violin. In the early 1980s I was touring in the northwest of Western Australia, with the Mucky Duck Bush Band and we played a show at a mining town called Mount Newman. After the show a woman came up and said how she enjoyed my playing – and how it reminded her of her uncle who used to play. She then said that she had had her uncle’s violin for the past 20 years since he had passed away. And she said she’d like to give it to me so that it can be played again the way he played it. On one condition. I would need to have it rebuilt as the dry hot summers in Mt Newman had taken its toll and the plates had separated – it was in pieces!

I pointed out that I would be leaving for the next town early next day, but if she could bring it round I’d love to see it. And I thought nothing more about it.

The banging on my motel room door at 06:30AM woke me with a start and I quickly threw on jeans and tee-shirt and opened the door. And there was (as I recall her name) Mrs Richardson? Simpson? bearing a box. A quick glance at the double purfling and the inlay in the back convinced me that this could be something special. We shook hands warmly as I duly promised to have the violin rebuilt. I knew just the person – Scott Wise a then up and coming luthier – and very fine musician in his own right.

It was several weeks later that Scott phoned me and told me I’d better get down to his workshop. He wouldn’t say anything more. When I arrived he handed me a bow and the newly restored violin. I must’ve played it for an hour in his workshop before I could bring myself to put it down. The tone was amazing and very loud – as perhaps only a German violin could be.

It instantly became my concert violin – at least until the hardangerfiddle was built – but that’s another story – and from then on the concerts were shared between the two instruments.

German Maggini copy violin

German Maggini copy violin

German Maggini copy violin

German Maggini copy violin

The side decoration is consistent with 1870s-1890s (Arts and Crafts Movement), the single turn on the scroll is not characteristic of Maggini and there is a label on the inside of the top plate in German which doesn’t give a makers name, just a quote that translates loosely as: “joy comes to he who brings joy to others“. A delightful sentiment 🙂 The back is flamed maple, the front is spruce, and the belly swell is unusually deep, yielding a rich mellow tone. I’ll post an audio link soon so you can hear it too 🙂

If anyone can shed any further light on the maker of this fine instrument, or if you have a similar one, I’d love to hear from you.

One possible clue is an uncertain dating by a US violin shop that lists a similar violin one as ca1930s from a ‘sears’ catalogue! Again if anyone has info on the maker I ‘d love to hear from you 🙂

Maggini copy violin


Vale Jean Baudrillard 20 June 1929 – 6 March 2007

Posted by jerry on March 9th, 2007 — Posted in Journal, Theory, Writing

French postmodern philosopher Jean Baudrillard died on my birthday, aged 77. He leaves us with a question he himself posed in 2004 in a paper he presented at the European Graduate School in 2004:

… When the referent no longer exists, can we still speak of an image?

Where Roland Barthes spoke of language as a mediation of the real, Baudrillard realised that the mediation is what we have access to, not the thing itself – and irrespective of whether or not the thing itself was actual. The world is richer for his having been, and poorer for his departure.

Jean Baudrillard
Jean Baudrillard at the European Graduate School, 2004

I still think his short book Simulations was his best work.